… Premier Bligh’s claim in state parliament this morning that Queensland’s Right to Information legislation made her government more accountable was laughable. Anyone who has attempted to extract information from this government using (Right to Information) processes is confronted with bureaucratic obfuscation … “Under Bligh’s self-flaunted legislation, departments are required to respond 25 days but are either unable or unwilling to do so.”Mr Lindsay relied on this to issue a warning:
These are the kinds of things that, as members of parliament, on both sides, we have to be very careful about. FOI has to mean FOI. After this bill goes through the parliament, if we see what is happening in Queensland continue to happen in the Australian departments, it will be a sad day for Australia. It will be a sad day for the aspirations that the member for Isaacs articulated so well in the parliament this evening.From this distance there seems a lot positive to be said about the new law in Queensland and the way it is being implemented although there may be questions about aspects of the law and issues that arise in handling particular applications.
Others with experience in use of the act also have a different view. Michael McKinnon FOI Editor of the Seven Network spoke positively last week at the World Press Freedom Day Conference about the changed attitude he has experienced in dealings with Queensland public servants on access requests. His comments were in line with his remarks to a Senate committee on 5 February:
“I would also make the observation that I work in FOI regimes across the country. The new Queensland act has seen a significant transformation in the culture of the Public Service. It is working very well. That is because I think Premier Anna Bligh has made it very clear she is in support of FOI. We are now getting documents a lot more easily than we ever had in our lives. I pinch myself wondering how long it will last, but at this stage we are lodging FOI applications on the internet and getting documents back within 30 or 40 days, with very few exemptions—rarely are exemptions applied. Some of those stories are clearly hurting the Bligh government, given the Premier’s reaction in the media to them, but nevertheless I commend to the committee the leadership shown by the Queensland Premier and suggest that similar leadership needs to be shown by the Prime Minister if this act is going to transform the bureaucracy in terms of encouraging a culture of openness and non-secrecy.”McKinnon continued:
“I was sceptical about the Queensland act and whether it would change the culture, but it has. I talk to FOI officers who say, ‘No, we’re going to give this to you.’ They are almost overjoyed to say that because they know that they can do it and they are not going to get a call from the director saying, ‘Why did you release that, you idiot?’ Throughout the public service in Queensland there seems to be a real understanding that nobody is going to get bollocksed for releasing documents that are in the public interest to release.”It won't be a sad day for Australia if we can say this nine months after Federal reforms come into play.